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10 Cases that Violated the Eighth Amendment Banning Excessive Bail and Punishment

The Eighth Amendment bans “excessive bail, excessive fines, and cruel and unusual punishments.” Here are 10 cases that involve violations of the Eighth Amendment as recorded by the US Supreme Court Center.

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1) United States v. Bajakajian, 1998

Hosep Krikor Bajakajian decided to go to Cyprus in 1994 to pay his debts. He was put on trial because he did not declare the amount of $357, 144 to the customs officers. The law states that a person who carries more than $10,000 in leaving the country must honestly declare the amount to the concerned authorities. Although there was a clear violation, Justice Clarence Thomas said that forfeiting the full amount violated the Excessive Fine Clause. Justice Thomas argued that the penalty was totally “disproportional” to his offense.

2) United States v. Salerno, 1987

Anthony Salerno was held in custody on March 21, 1986 for his clear involvement in Genovese Organized Crime of La Cosa Nostra. The United States Supreme Court (USSC) did not allow Salerno to post bail because of the Bail Reform Act of 1984. The USSC opined that there was no violation of the Eighth Amendment. The court’s decision was based on the assumption that the safety of the community was at stake if the defendant remained free.

3) Gregg v. Georgia, 1976

Tony Gregg was sentenced to death after he was found guilty for armed robbery and murder. Gregg believed that the sentence was unconstitutional. However, the Supreme Court argued against his claim. He already underwent two separate trials, which carefully considered several mitigating and aggravating factors.

4) Furman v. Georgia, 1972 

William Furman was sentenced to death after he was found guilty of murder while he was attempting to burglarize a house. Furman appealed before the court. According to Justice Potter Stewart, the death penalty was clearly handed out to Furman mainly because he was a black man. Thus, it violated the Eighth Amendment.

5) Powell v. Texas, 1968

Leroy Powell, a Texas resident, had been repeatedly convicted of public intoxication. In December 1966, he was arrested and later appealed. However, the Court disagreed with his claim by stating that the sentence was made at a time when alcoholism was still not valid as a legal defense. 

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6) Robinson v. California, 1962

Lawrence Robinson, a resident in California, was arrested after a police officer thought that he had injection marks on his arms. The officer also added that Robinson claimed that he was an addict, which the latter denied. His 90-day imprisonment was questioned by the Supreme Court. The court decided that the punishment completely disregarded the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause of the Eighth Amendment because it hinged on the assumption that an illness is equivalent to the offense.

7) Trop v. Dulles, 1958

Albert Trop, an American citizen, decided to quit his military service while he was on a mission in Morocco. Years later, his application for a US passport was denied. According to the Nationality Act 1940, deserting the military service would automatically lose your citizenship. However, this punishment was rejected by the Supreme Court mainly because it amounted to the complete destruction of a person, which is a clear violation of the Eighth Amendment.

8) Weems v. United States, 1910

Paul Weems, who worked at the Bureau of Coast Guard and Transportation, was convicted for falsification of documents. Sentenced to 15 years in prison, Weems was also subjected to hard labor. The Supreme Court reversed the sentence because it did not reflect the principle of proportionality. In other words, it violates the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause.

9) Waters-Pierce Oil Co. v. Texas, 1909

The case for Waters-Pierce Oil Company began in 1897 when Attorney General Martin M. Crane filed suit claiming that the said company was part of the trust agreement in Standard Oil in New Jersey. Charged with antitrust violation, the company must pay at least $5,000 per day for 300 days. The company made an appeal stating that the amount violated the Eighth Amendment specifically the Excessive Fine Clause. However, the Supreme Court favored against Waters-Pierce mainly because the company was highly profitable at the time of the trial.

10) Wilkerson v. Utah, 1878

Walker Wilkerson was found guilty of first-degree murder in 1878. The court decided that Wilkerson would be executed publicly. The defendant made an appeal on the ground that hanging was the approved form of execution at the time and not firing squad. However, the Supreme Court favored the decision.

Larry Nowak


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